What would a women’s movement motivated by the desire to celebrate feminine genius and the complementarity of the sexes look like? One that celebrates the differences between men and women without boxing people into reductive stereotypes, and sees men and women as equal in dignity, two parts of a whole that needs to work in harmony? In 2013, five French women founded Les Antigones in an effort to find out.
If Femen, the self-described “terrorist” feminist group founded in Ukraine in 2008, can be recognised by their topless activists painted with provocative slogans, Les Antigones cut a striking (if less headline-grabbing) figure of contrast dressed in white. While Femen draw inspiration from the bare-chested Amazon warriors of Greek legend, Les Antigones align themselves with the daughter of Oedipus, a mythical guide motivated by love who worked to bring about reconciliation in a complex and messy world.
Finding the cultural conversations around women’s role in society dominated by the ideology of extremist groups like Femen, the founders of Les Antigones have created a community that invites and empowers women to embrace their femininity and contribute their unique perspective in all areas of public life and conversation with respect and dignity.
“The idea is not to reject feminism and everything it has given women, but to acknowledge that it’s kind of a tricky label to use for many of us,” explains Anne-Sophie Thébault, a founding member of Les Antigones. For many women, including Catholics and women of other organised religions, Les Antigones provide a refreshing alternative space; it’s hard to feel at home in mainstream feminist groups, which more often than not push for abortion rights and take an aggressive anti-religious position.
While Les Antigones are opposed to the tactics and ideology of Femen, they are about much more than that. “People often think we’re an anti-feminist movement, but … our aim is really to talk about society as a whole, not feminism,” says Anne-Sophie Thébault. “We really want to have a critical eye on things that happen in France, and what other movements have to offer; to see what maybe has gone wrong in those movements, and rather than to simply denounce them, to try and use that knowledge to enrich our positions and try to find practical solutions.”
Les Antigones focus on deepening their understanding of important social issues, while also working on practical solutions wherever they can see room to act, including campaign work and writing proposals for new laws. By encouraging women to take active part in all kinds of different discussions, from the environment and the family to working conditions and health, they see their mission as rejecting a culture of individualism and reframing the debate around what women can offer society, in collaboration with men.
“We want to show that women are half of humanity and that the whole society should care about them. We really want women to understand that there are many ways of being a woman, and of being feminine, that you don’t need to stick to one model, whether it’s the kind of models the feminists don’t like, or the kinds of models they’re trying to impose on us now,” explains Anne-Sophie Thébault.
Ultimately, Les Antigones speak for many women who don’t like to be reduced to labels: “Let us set ideologies aside, and take our inspiration from the lives we lead,” they write. While many modern feminists seem to be getting more and more stuck in the weeds of ideology, Les Antigones have identified that society is in desperate need for a feminine perspective given in a spirit of collaboration.
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